- Limbacher & Godfrey Architects
- Jay-Reese Contractors
The Boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake is a 1.3-mile accessible urban trail on the south shore of the Colorado River that forms part of the 10.2-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail. Features of The Boardwalk include its distinctive concrete deck planks, galvanized steel shade canopies, and viewing areas that jut out over the water.
The Boardwalk is a perfect example of the many ways that architects contribute to the urban environment beyond just buildings. Winding 1.3 miles across land and water, The Boardwalk may be the closest thing that Austin has to Manhattan’s High Line. While that urban trail runs over narrow alleyways and between towering buildings, The Boardwalk takes visitors on a journey through the natural world: from the waters of the river, over reedy islands, through leafy forest glades, and back again.
Funded via public/private partnership, The Boardwalk reflects the growing role of the hike-and-bike trail as both a hub for alternative transit and an important connection between east and west Austin. Due to a confluence of factors (difficult topography, private property holdings, and the 250-foot-wide traffic monster that is Interstate 35) the trail that encircles Lady Bird Lake remained incomplete for decades. Visitors who wanted to make a full circuit were forced to leave the safety of the trail and navigate a maze of narrow, disjointed sidewalks and unprotected highway crossings. The idea of closing the so-called “Riverside Gap” had been floated since the 1960s, but it was not until The Trail Foundation completed an investment study in 2007 that the movement reached critical mass.
As architecture, The Boardwalk strikes a delicate balance; it feels bespoke while not drawing too much attention to itself. The meandering nature of the trail—as opposed to a series of straight segments connecting point A to point B—is an intentional design choice in keeping with the ecological forces that shaped the landscape. Composed of 2,300 precast concrete planks, the deck hovers over the water just high enough to allow kayakers to pass below. When the trail wanders back onto dry land, the crunch of decomposed granite underfoot provides a subtle sensory distinction. At night, the pathway is illuminated by 13,000 LED lights concealed by the handrail.
Resembling flocks of birds (or perhaps bats?) skimming the water, three shade canopies on the eastern stretch of The Boardwalk are made up of curved sections of galvanized steel supported by a framework of steel pipes that branch out from concrete columns. Seven overlooks are distributed selectively along the route; take a minute to enjoy the view! – Bud Franck
James Innes (1-2); The Trail Foundation (3); Atelier Wong Photography (4-14); Jeffrey Buehner (15)